To his last day, Steve Jobs was vehemently against the idea of a smaller iPad design. Right up to his departure from the company he argued against the smaller form factor.
Consider this statement from the October 2010 earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts: "One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70% of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45% as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right; just 45% as large."
He went on to say that the screens on the seven inch tablets are a bit smaller than the bottom half of the iPad display in landscape mode. "This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion," he said.
Well, Steve has ascended to Nirvana and Tim Cook is running the show now, and we have a 7.9-inch iPad, the Mini. It has the same resolution as the iPad 2, 1024x768, but in a smaller form factor.
The iPad is already an enormous hit, with the tablet being used in an increasing number of unusual places: retailers want to replace point-of-sale systems with iPads; airlines are replacing 40 pounds of flight manuals in the cockpit with iPads; and restaurants are using tablets in place of paper menus.
But it's also a big device. It's light, only 1.3 pounds, but a near-10-inch screen is simply not easily carried about. So, will the 7-inch iPad mini find its way into new spaces and usage models? In some cases, yes, say proponents. It depends on the use case.
In the enterprise space, no one has said it's too big, said Ken Hyers, senior analyst for mobile devices at Technology Business Research. "When you think about how people use a 10-inch tablet, they put it on their lap or a surface. You don't see them walking around holding it," he said.
But for someone using it in the field taking a retail orders, a smaller form factor that can be held in one hand is going to be a more effective device, he added. "I can think of a lot of types of work people might do in the field where they enter data one-handed. In that situation the smaller screen won't be a detriment," Hyers added.
A visit to an Apple store will show this, as the blue-shirted staff all carry iPads for point-of-sale and managing the Genius Bar, and the iPad has to be cradled on their forearm. At some AT&T stores, they have iPads mounted on pads worn on the wrists of store employees, creating the visual of the world's largest wristwatch.
You Can Take It With You
It's the portability of the iPad that will make it appealing, following in the footsteps of the Amazon Kindle family. There are two models of Kindles, the standard, with its 6-inch screen, and the Kindle Fire HD, with a 8.9-inch screen. Then there's the weight; the Kindle is 7 ounces, the Fire HD is 20 ounces.
For this reason, NPD Group found the standard Kindle to be especially popular with women, who could toss it in their purse and easily carry it about.
For workers, then the smaller device is easier to carry. Hyers noted he finds himself taking his iPad mini out of the home and office more often because it can slip into a big coat pocket.
"It really depends on what the worker is using it for. I can see in certain activities, like field workers, someone who has to keep it out constantly, those types of workers would find one in a smaller one that's easier to carry while they are standing," he said.
Darin Lynch, owner and "Chief Liberation Officer" of the Web design firm Irish Titan, also sees the Mini being a one-hand wonder. "A more universal use for the smaller form may be note-taking, with some of the new note taking applications and ability to hold the Mini with only one hand," he said
Gerry Purdy, principal analyst with Mobile Trax, went further, saying the iPad mini will "likely revolutionize the K-12 education market." The reason the Mini is the winning combination is that it's an iOS based device that's inexpensive enough to replace if broken and small enough for kids to carry.
"It breaks the $400 price point and that's important in education, and the smaller size is important beccause of smaller fingers in K-12. Plus there's a lot of education software," said Purdy. "So finally all the points are hit that education is looking for. A lot of educators I've talked with and consultants to education think the same thing."
It won't be little kids with little fingers who adopt the Mini, it will also be authors, predicts Elaine Wilkes, an author who, among other things, creator of the course YourBookontheiPad.com. She cites the carrying convenience for authors.
Wilkes is a big fan of the interactive element of iPad e-books but she doesn't like the large, bulky iPad screen. "The iPads don't lend themselves to the size of purses. The Minis are so much easier than that," she said.
"If you are an author you always have to carry your book with you because you never know who you are going to run into, especially since everything is interactive on the iPad. So the iPad has all these features that no one else knows about and when you show it, people say 'I never knew a book could do that'," she said.
So, will Jobs be proven wrong? He has in the past ? Apple Lisa or NeXT Computer, anyone? It could be he was wrong here in that he looked at the 7-inch model in the same use case as the 9.7-inch model but failed to see new use cases that would be opened up by the smaller size unit. Time will tell.
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